DENVER — As the Broncos struggled to move the ball for the better part of three quarters, fans made their displeasure known.
With every errant pass, failed run or stalled drive, the crowd at Broncos Stadium at Mile High hurled down boos at Denver’s offense.
Quarterback Case Keenum, who led a unit that scored three points on its first seven drives, acknowledged after the Broncos’ 23-20 loss that he could hear the vocalized dismay.
It’s not the first time Keenum’s heard boos in his career, he said. And in this situation — a four-game losing streak that’s left the Broncos 2-4 and in need of a quick and drastic turnaround — Keenum doesn’t fault Broncos fans for their frustration.
“They should be pissed,” Keenum said after the game. “I’m pissed.
“We have to do better. And we keep saying that, but we have to do it. Whatever it is. The plays that we need to make, we need to make them. I see us doing that going forward.”
Perhaps the most aggravating detail of this four-game skid is that it doesn’t really resemble the eight-game losing streak of 2017. During that stretch, the Broncos lost those eight games by an average of 16.6 points. Against the three playoff teams Denver faced, things were even worse.
Those losses came by a combined margin of 121-58.
That’s not how this year’s Broncos team has fallen.
In three of their four losses, they’ve had legitimate chances to win in the fourth quarter — and their two home losses came by a combined seven points against the league’s only undefeated teams.
And still, the Broncos are tired of having chances and failing to convert on them.
Sunday’s game against the Rams was perhaps the best example yet. After a disappointing first few quarters, the Broncos found a way to cut into a 20-3 lead.
A Darian Stewart interception set up a 22-yard Emmanuel Sanders touchdown that cut the lead to 20-10, and a Cairo Santos missed field goal gave the Broncos a chance to narrow the gap to three points.
That, though, is where “close” comes into play.
A 41-yard pass and an ensuing unnecessary roughness call on Los Angeles brought Denver close to the end zone.
But an unsuccessful fade route to Jeff Heuerman on third-and-five from the LA 6-yard line meant the Broncos wouldn’t get all the way there.
Instead of being down three points — where a Ram field goal would’ve made the task difficult, but not impossible — the Broncos still trailed by seven, and the Rams’ late field goal rendered a last-minute Denver touchdown moot.
There were several other situations in which close just wasn’t good enough Sunday.
On Emmanuel Sanders’ 43-yard catch in the first quarter, which would’ve been a touchdown if he’d recorded 44 yards on the play.
On Denver’s fourth-and-3 at the end of the first half, where a conversion would’ve guaranteed points, but the sack Keenum took instead ensured the Broncos’ would head into halftime down 10 points.
On the Broncos’ last real defensive drive, when they desperately needed a stop and almost had Gurley contained.
That’s being close. And it’s not good enough for a franchise that’s used to championship-level football.
“In ’15, we won the Super Bowl,” Sanders said. “Before I got here, in the Peyton Manning era, we were winning. The [Tim] Tebow era, they were going to the playoffs and won miraculous playoff games. [Broncos fans] expect wins. I would expect wins, too.”
Sanders still does. So does Keenum. And Head Coach Vance Joseph, who said there are no moral victories. And Von Miller, who knows he and this team are doing almost enough to win these games.
“You should be hurt,” Von Miller said. “You shouldn’t be laughing. It should wear on you. It should really bother you to lose on this level.”
It does hurt.
That much is clear, and it’s why games like the one Sunday — games where you’re close — continue to torment the Broncos.
They can only hope these finishes are close to being over.